NYPD introduces emotional support dogs to help officers cope with stress of job

NEW YORK (WABC) -- On Wednesday, the NYPD introduced K9s Jenny and Piper, two emotional support dogs trained to help officers cope with the stresses of the job. They are assigned to the Employee Assistance Unit.

They are the first two graduates from the 'Puppies Behind Bars' program, a program that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for first responders.

"They were a bigger impact than we were. I've been in the unit for six years and we've been doing roll call, but now when we come with the dogs it's 'when is Jenny going to get here?" said handler Efrain Hernandez

The dogs completed a training program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County.

"We're police officers that went into a maximum security prison, and we had to learn from inmates. It was intimidating in the beginning, but that all went away very quickly," said Detective and handler Ronald Thomas

Recently, the K9s were used during the fatal shootings of Officer Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora in January. They were also honored at the Big East Tournament last week.

"Both of these dogs were at St. Patrick's Cathedral for our two officers that lost their lives -- not only comforting our officers who are mounting, but also the family members. These dogs are requested to sit next to the widows and the family mem=bers who died," said Deputy Inspector Mark Wachter.

The dogs are more than just cute -- they actually help to bridge the gab for officers who might be hesitant to reach out with mental health issues.

"There are stigmas in law enforcement that exist. People don't always want to come forward and say they are going through something, but having done this without a dog and doing this with a dog, now it's dramatically different. Dogs have a tendency to lighten the mood and bright down the stress," added Thomas.

Right now there are only three dogs, but the unit hopes to get more to help even more officers.

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